Hot take: Instagram notifications are universally annoying. You’re positive that you’ve muted them, yet somehow, you’re phone is still buzzing at 2 a.m. to inform you that Eunice from summer camp of ’04 just posted her first IG story. No matter how many times you change your settings, those little rascals keep popping up. That’s exactly what my relatives are like: It makes no difference how many times I politely decline when my family tries to set me up — they bounce back again the next day with a new series of 10-minute-long voicemails and another, equally as hairy, strapping young bachelor.
My big fat Persian family makes the FBI look like a group of finger puppets. My parents make the show True Detective feel like an episode of Blue’s Clues. My extended kin are to private investigators what the entire U.S. Postal Service is to one teeny, tiny mailbox. I’m not saying my family is super nosy, but I’m also not not saying that. I only mean to suggest that I once called my mom from college and told her that I was thinking of getting a tiny tattoo on my inner wrist, and by nightfall, I was getting emails from distant cousins whom I have never met before, with subject lines like: Does Body Mutilation Lead To Sudden Death? So, make of that what you will.
My family’s absurdly high level of involvement means that most aspects of my life are rarely kept private, and that applies to my love life tenfold. To be fair, I understand that my relatives’ intent is not malicious. It’s not only that they want what’s best for me — which they do — but they also want what’s best for the Persian community: The tribe of three-generation Iranian families, which immigrated from Tehran to the tri-state area during the revolution. In many of their minds, marrying a nice Persian boy means maintaining the strength of this community long after my grandparents pass. It means my children will learn Farsi and celebrate Norooz. It means bringing my own family to visit Iran someday.
I remember the first time I became hyperaware of this expectation, or rather, hope. I was a young girl, perhaps 12 or 13 years old. An older family friend was driving her cousin and I to the mall. We sat in a sleek convertible and her long, black hair blew into the wind, causing her to laugh as it tangled up in her eyes; she was beautiful. The youngest of us were in the backseat, listening in total awe as she recounted tales of her many boyfriends. “Do you think you’ll marry one?” Her cousin prodded. “Nope,” she responded, without missing a beat. “I’m going to marry an Iranian. I mean, don’t you want your husband to be able to communicate with your family?”
That’s a question that I thought about frequently while growing up. Now I’m well into my 20s — an age when strangers assume they can discuss marriage with you as openly as they do coupon codes at CVS. Let me be clear: My family is very open-minded and accepting, and has never formally pressured me to “mate” with another Iranian. In fact, my current partner is British and my immediate family might be even more in love with him than I am! The type of “setting up” I’m referring to is much more subtle and some would say, devious.
This time last year, I brought my partner to an event that had been branded as a Persian millennial brunch, an attempt for my parents’ generation to sort of force their children to become friends with each other, as a means of ensuring that our community will flourish for centuries onward. My partner was the only “outsider” in attendance, and while nobody made him feel uncomfortable or unwanted, I was later encouraged by the host to consider bringing a Persian plus-one to the next meet-and-greet. I suddenly realized that this was, indeed, some form of strange mating ritual — and I had totally crashed à la National Geographic.
Regardless of this, er, uncomfortable moment, I remain a huge proponent for love knowing no bounds: falling in love when you least expect it and reveling in that experience until you’re no longer in it. I continue to toe the line between honoring the culture and community from which I’m derived, and being head-over-heels in love with someone foreign to it. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t have the unexpected visitor pop by, every now and again. But for when they do, I’ve concocted a fool-proof, three-fold approach to politely declining to obvious setup.
1Smile And Nod
If your family invites you to a dinner party, then proceeds to seat you next to the only single guest in attendance, who seems to have already been given your resumé to read and your Instagram handle to stalk beforehand, don’t panic. Don’t throw food across the table or dramatically toss back your chair. Instead, try to appease your family by sitting through each course with your head held high and your phone in your pocket. Make polite conversation, and small references to a nondescript person you are dating, who is maybe currently overseas on business or perhaps developing a Broadway play. I have more fake boyfriends than I have fingers. Then, once all the guests have left, address the snafu in private.
If you’re out at a restaurant with your family, and “unexpectedly run in” to another table of family friends who you haven’t seen in decades, but apparently their grandson has really shot up like a beanstalk and has waxed off his unibrow and has opened up a field hockey program for underprivileged kids, don’t sit back in your seat and chug an entire bottle of wine. Instead, act inquisitively about this person, then consider rattling off a list of your own accomplishments. Feel free to tell them every small detail of your job, right down to the very last semi colon. If you’re a Sex & Dating Editor like me, tell them about that masturbation article you wrote last month. Then smile pleasantly, and bid them adieu.
If you’re attending your fifth wedding of the year (this may be a problem very specific to Persians), and you find yourself seated at the kids table, where everyone dining with you is under the age of 10 except for one, single bachelor named Hamid, who is getting his masters in engineering and is “waiting for more information to be released” before making his mind up about climate change, do not spend the entire ceremony in the bathroom (people apparently think this is weird). Instead, dance with the flower girl. Go hang out with your drunk aunt. Wrestle on the ground with a few strangers for the bouquet. Gawk at the Persian knife dance. Enjoy the night and try your best to ignore the fact that you were blatantly set up by meddling relatives.
While I’m always game to rant about relatives, I must also acknowledge how blessed I feel to come from a family with such a rich cultural history and so much love to go around — even if they do sometimes show up announced or try to set me up with their friend’s in-law’s step-son. I understand that as a first-generation American, upholding the traditions of the country from which I descend is a big responsibility, and one that I take seriously. But I intend to scold my kids in Farsi and cook them stews that they can’t pronounce, no matter who I fall in love with. In the meantime, I plan to keep dating my partner, eating with my extended family every Sunday night, and dodging their not-so-subtle attempts at setting me up. You can’t pick your family — but that doesn’t mean you should let your family pick yours!